By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Playing the previous year's Shenandoah District champs is always a daunting task, but Central's girls soccer team proved that it could play with the best in the district Friday.
Despite a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Buffalo Gap, the Falcons dominated play for most of the game.
"We should have won tonight," Central coach Duff Rice said. "We came out really fired up for this one. If we can play with this kind of intensity for the rest of the season, we're going to be a team to watch out for."
After an evenly played first half, the Falcons pushed hard in the second half and had several close calls that would have tied the game. If Central had been able to get the equalizer, it would have boded well for the Falcons in the 10-minute overtime. Central outshot the Bison 9-0 over the final 40 minutes of play.
"I really don't know what to say," Central right winger Theresa Barela said. ""It really hurts to lose like this. We played as hard as we could. That was my first time playing right wing. I really wasn't sure of myself. I tried to make up for my lack of experience by playing as hard as I could."
If Barela's first game at right wing is any indication of how she'll play it in the future, Rice should seriously consider keeping her there. The Falcons sophomore was at the epicenter of most of Central's scoring opportunities.
Just one minute into the second half, Barela launched a blistering shot from 15 yards out, and only a great save by Buffalo Gap goalkeeper Logan May preserved the Bison's lead. It took all of two minutes for Barela to beat the Buffalo Gap defense again and send the ball heading towards May and the Bison net once more.
"This was really nerve-racking," May said. "I really wanted to get the shutout so that we could win the game. But Central really tested me. My defense helped out a lot, too."
With Barela and the Falcons pressing hard early in the second half, the Bison switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 formation to counter Central's offense.
"I told the midfielders that with Central pressing so hard, they needed to think defense first," Buffalo Gap coach Carrie Collins said. "We were worried about getting overloaded by them. They put a lot of pressure on our goalkeeper in the second half."
May was forced to make nine saves for the game, including four in the second half. Those second-half saves were much more difficult than the five May made in the first half.
Neither side was able to control play in the first half, and the ball moved quickly from one end of the field to the other. Buffalo Gap outshot the Falcons 8-6 during the first half, but it took a wild scramble in the penalty box to give the Bison the lead.
With 10:39 left in the half, Eden Smith sent a cross from the right wing into the penalty box. Falcons goalkeeper Miranda Morris dove for the ball, but Buffalo Gap's Emily Morgan arrived just a split-second before her and tapped it into the net.
Morgan's goal seemed to bring Central's offense alive, but the Falcons' battle against the tough Bison defense just didn't produce the goal they needed.
"They're a really physical team," Falcons midfielder Katie Philpot said. "But we refused to back down. I thought that we really played well in the first half. We were passing the ball well. We played even better in the second half, we just couldn't get the shots to fall."
The effort also pleased Rice.
"I just loved the effort that we put into this game," Rice said. "This is the best we've played all season."